Oh, the cultural ferment in Basel! The city that today ranks among the most fascinating destinations of Switzerland and beyond vaunts prestigious architectures with a rich history influencing today’s constructions and restorations. It’s with this in mind that we make our way to Volkshaus Basel, a hotel from Studio Herzog & De Meuron, whose extensive history comes alive once more with an entirely new interior design.
The building, inaugurated in 1925, was already a fundamental point of reference in the cultural landscape of Basel 95 years ago. Originally designed by architect Henri Baur, who intuited the pragmatism of integrating an existing concert hall and completing it with other areas for a complete architecture — a city within a city — of offices, conference halls, shops, restaurants and staff accommodations (on the last floor). But after 45 glorious years as a space for social encounters, the Volkshaus narrowly avoided demolition and was restored in both form and purpose. With this, the construction’s rich past helped revolutionize its new interiors and exteriors.
The process of rethinking the building, which helped define the project as we see it today, first began back in 2011 with the idea of preserving the historic and cultural importance of Volkshaus. Today, the building is a hotel for visitors and tourists composed of 45 rooms inheriting the architectural legacy of the ’70s in what were once offices. In order not to lose the historic architecture, the restoration kept the display cases of work spaces, transforming them into physical divisions between the inside and outside, following the contemporary theme of transparency. The rooms trace the minimalist legacy of the past, made simply and with the essentials: a bed, wardrobe and sink.
The style of the update is felt in the new lobby, where black and green mosaic tiles line the floors below a subtle cladding capped with a coat of brilliant white that extends to the ceiling. The entrance is realized in a weave of shop windows — recovered from the old structure — which opens onto an atrium that hosts a small shop. The completion of the hotel recreated the Volkshaus Basel with its various uses, like a piece of a city within the city, vibrant and exciting.
Between halls, restaurants, and shared spaces dedicated to relaxation, great attention was placed on the rooms as they were able to underscore elements of the pre-existing architecture. In guest bedrooms then, oak wardrobes are complete with a dark finish, running across the entire length of the room, while oval windows offer a view onto interiors and the panorama beyond the bathrooms. In particular, most of the rooms feature a shower that’s been positioned to allow for a direct view through the rooms and out the window. The rest of the space, meanwhile, is airy and punctuated by curtains that often outline the silhouette of the room.
At the heart of the room is the bed, a symbol of relaxation and hospitality referencing the past design that defined the style of seats positioned in the old Volkshaus Basel brewery. Everything is decorated with a splash of color: green curtains — an unmistakable accent throughout the entire hotel — and light beige wallpaper, which reveals incisions from the 17 century, bridging the structure’s past with its present. In a frame determined to renovate that old feeling of a city within the city, each room is presented differently from the last, allowing the architecture to maintain its character in countless closely studied nuances. Here, crossing the threshold into a new environment is like entering a different world.